Feminist Magic: How Millennials Reclaimed Witchcraft

Magic has been associated with women’s emancipation in arts and culture since prehistory: from the Mother goddess represented in the Venus von Willendorf, to the eight-armed Hindu goddess Durga, to the mythological Jewish figure of Lilith, supernatural powers and femininity have had an impact in most Western and Eastern societies. From worshipping to persecuting, the idea of a woman with magical abilities is something that has often tackled a taboo grey area between the godly and the evil - a grey area that is created by historical and geographic elements. During the past few years, millennial feminists have taken this concept, redefined it and turned it into a feminist staple that is both a symbol and an active response against the contemporary patriarchy.

The idea of Early Modern witch-hunts is what resonates with most millennial witches: by reclaiming the word “witch”, young women retrieve its violent past and the injustices associated with it. A word that in the collective consciousness is still synonymous with anti-Christianity and depravity is the perfect façade for modern rebellion against sexism. If there is something millennials know how to do, it’s adapting the past to into the present: from vintage fashion to old warehouses, this controversial millennial tendency has glamourized witchcraft too, turning it into a feminist viral phenomenon. However, as the word “witch” gets more and more mainstream and stars like Azealia Banks and Lorde define themselves as “witches”, it becomes harder to draw the line between the symbolic feminist use of the word and actual beliefs in supernatural powers.

With hashtags like #witchy, #darkling, #moonchild and #stregafashion trending on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter, it could be easy to conclude that witchcraft is just another constructed millennial fashion, rather than a lifestyle or a feminist statement. The aestheticisation of stereotypical magic and gothic imagery like pendulums, tarots and crystals is a recurring motif in modern witches’ social media: from skull-shaped bath bombs to millennial pink candles, feminist witchcraft has clearly integrated a contemporary visual appeal into magic. The rising popularity of witchcraft-themed Instagram accounts like @thehoodwitch, @_spirits and @ancient_hearts has created a whole new concept of magic and feminism, an evolution of the ‘90s “girl-power” and sexual independence that was represented through witchcraft in pop-culture classics like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Craft. Witchcraft has arguably reached a new level of accessibility to young women in a way that is both highly idealised through technology and politicised through feminist statements.

Witchcraft and feminism affect each other almost strictly through social-media: in a way, global communication and accessibility have helped the preservation and renewal of ancient pagan practices. The changing approach to witchcraft and magic of contemporary feminists is clear and it reflects the majority of millennials’ political ideologies. Witchcraft is following the evolution of feminist movements in a mirror-like way: the shift from ‘90s and early ‘00s third-wave feminism, which mainly focused on the empowerment and sexual expression of straight white women, to today’s intersectional feminism, which has moved its focus onto the struggles of non-straight women, women of colour and trans women, is reflected in the changing attitudes of witches towards their magical crafts. From gynocentric spells and charms that were focused on the biology of what was considered the female body, feminist magic is becoming much more intersectional, focusing on different gender and sexual identities.

Wicca is one of the most popular forms of magic amongst millenials, as it focuses on the powers of nature and a connection with the Earth.

With a rejection of conservative Christian ideals and biblical traditions, millennial witches bring their identities and the social issues that come with them into their magic. One of the staple books in the changing attitudes of witchcraft towards feminism is Sacred Sexuality by A. T. Mann and Jane Lyle, which explores the links between religion, magic and sexuality throughout history. Quotes from the book such as “the traditional biblical story of Adam and Eve was specifically […] to repress and depotentize any powerful influences remaining from the cults of The Earth mother […], which ruled supreme for tens of thousands of years” have gained significance to the point of becoming maxims of contemporary witchcraft. From defence against “everyday” sexist attitudes like catcalling and male entitlement, to greater issues like racial discrimination and hate crimes against LGBT+ people, millennial witches are politically-aware and ready to “smash the patriarchy” by combining magic and activism. 

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